Not his deal
It had been a week without much Stormy Daniels news. President Donald Trump fixed that Thursday by finally taking questions about the case.
Did he know that his personal lawyer Michael Cohen paid $130,000 to the porn star just before the 2016 election so she’d keep quiet about her story of a 2006 sexual encounter with Trump.
“No,” Trump said.
Did he know why Cohen sent the money, reporters on Air Force One asked?
“You’ll have to ask Michael.”
Cohen has said he paid Daniels from his own funds but has evaded inquiries on whether he was ever reimbursed. Trump ignored a question on whether he ever set up a fund of money that Cohen could use to get his money back.
Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, essentially called Trump a liar, tweeting of the president’s “feigned lack of knowledge” about the hush money. “It is one thing to deceive the press and quite another to do so under oath,” he tweeted.
Whether Avenatti will get a shot at compelling sworn testimony remains to be seen as a court battle plays out over Daniels’ effort to get the agreement declared dead. Through press aides and lawyers, Trump has denied Daniels’ story.
Guard’s not up yet
Trump said he wants to send 2,000 and 4,000 National Guard members sent to the U.S.-Mexico border to help federal officials fight illegal immigration and drug trafficking, It still wasn’t clear who would be called up, how they’d be paid for or if any would armed.
But whenever they get there, it sounded like they will be staying for a while. “We’ll probably keep them or a large portion of them until the wall is built,” Trump said.
Strangely, it is unclear just what they’d do. By most reports from at least one Texas border town, with its steady flow of migrants and refugees, the day-to-day task is a matter of processing rather than any security threat.
Janison: Funding Islamophobia
When Long Island mega-donor Robert Mercer retired from his hedge fund and sold his stake in the alt-right-friendly Breitbart media, he bemoaned in a letter to investors that he had been unfairly depicted as an enabler of bigots.
“Discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, creed, or anything of that sort is abhorrent to me,” he wrote.
But now the website OpenSecrets.org has identified Mercer as a $2 million backer of a group that circulated videos in 2016 swing states that portrayed Muslim refugees as plotting to create an “Islamic States of America.”
For more, see Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.
Smoke at EPA? Try tire fire
Trump’s got reasons to try to hang on to his EPA chief, Scott Pruitt. “He’s done a fantastic job,” Trump said — regarding their agenda for stripping down environmental regulations. But as for the ethics questions about him, Trump said, “I’ll take a look at it.”
He’s got more to look at, beyond the first-class travel, the condo rental from an energy lobbyist and the pay raises top aides got after the White House told Pruitt no.
The New York Times reports a Pruitt purge drove five EPA officials from their posts after they questioned him on spending plans and proposals such as: $70,000 to replace two desks in his office suite, a $100,000-a-month charter aircraft membership, a 20-person security detail and a bulletproof SUV.
According to The Washington Post, the EPA ethics official who reviewed the condo rental said he wasn’t given key facts about it, and White House officials don’t believe his story about not knowing about the raises. The Daily Beast found that, contrary to Pruitt’s statements, the lobbyist’s clients had business before the EPA.
Tariff-ying the markets
Stock indexes posted sizable gains Thursday as investors’ fears of a trade war calmed down. A White House announcement after the U.S. markets closed will put their serenity to the test on Friday.
Trump has instructed the U.S. trade representative to consider slapping $100 billion in additional tariffs on Chinese goods.
The move comes a day after China issued a $50 billion list of U.S. goods including soybeans and small aircraft for possible tariff hikes in an escalating and potentially damaging dispute. Farmers who voted for Trump are also worried about losing export customers, The Associated Press reports.
Trump’s throwback Thursday
The tax overhaul package passed last year is arguably Trump’s top achievement. Republicans hope to run on it in the midterms. Trump flew to West Virginia to tout it. And then he tossed away his prepared remarks.
“That would have been a little boring, a little boring,” he said.
So Trump reprised some of his greatest hits of false, exaggerated and inflammatory claims. Here’s a couple:
“In many places like California, the same person votes many times,” said Trump, reviving debunked allegations that “millions and millions” engage in voter fraud. Trump has been loathe to concede losing the popular vote in 2016.
Trump also saw vindication for his Day 1 campaign charge that Mexico was sending “rapists” to the U.S. “It came out” from the recent Central American refugee caravan that “women are raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before,” he said.
Part of the reason the refugees, largely women and children, traveled in a big group was for safety from criminals.
What else is happening:
- First lady Melania Trump won’t be joining her husband when he travels to Peru for the Summit of the Americas next week. Her spokeswoman said she’s staying behind to help plan for upcoming visits by foreign leaders.
- Trump lashed out again at Amazon — the proxy for his feud with The Washington Post — telling reporters on Air Force One that the e-commerce giant is “not on an even playing field” with other retailers. “We’re going to take a very serious look at that,” he said.
- The State Department under fired Secretary Rex Tillerson spent $12 million on consultants who were supposed to redesign it, Politico reports. It’s unclear what happens to the plan now.
- Trump has periodically floated the idea of replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions with Pruitt, CNN reported. But Trump said Thursday that Pruitt is “doing a great job where he is.” It also seems his ethics woes would make it tough to get him confirmed by the Senate.
- Budget director Mick Mulvaney, a hawk on government spending, has given big raises to deputies hired to help him in his second job, running the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, The Associated Press reports.
- Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski hurled expletives at Democrats who tried to question him in a meeting last month of the House Intelligence Committee, according to CNN.